Rapper MIA supports Julian Assange at court a day before collecting MBE

Rapper MIA supports Julian Assange at court a day before collecting MBE

Rapper and singer MIA has said supporting Julian Assange as the WikiLeaks founder appeared in a UK court was “just as important” as receiving her MBE.

The performer, real name Mathangi Arulpragasam, joined dozens of Assange supporters as he attended a hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court today.

Assange, 48, is currently being held in HMP Belmarsh, awaiting the outcome of an extradition request by the US, where he faces 18 charges, including conspiring to commit computer intrusion.

He is accused of working with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of classified documents.

Speaking outside court, MIA told the PA news agency: “I think it was important to follow this case.

“I am off to get a medal at Buckingham Palace tomorrow (an MBE for services to music) and I think today is just as important.

“To give somebody an hour to put their case together is not right.”

During the 12-minute hearing on Monday, Assange’s lawyers complained they had not been granted sufficient contact time with him.

Gareth Peirce told the court there had been a lack of contact time to speak with her client at high-security Belmarsh, something which threatened to delay the serving of evidence ahead of the trial.

She said: “We have pushed Belmarsh in every way – it is a breach of a defendant’s rights.”

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange leaves Westminster Magistrates’ Court(Dominic Lipinski/PA)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange leaves Westminster Magistrates’ Court (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser agreed to adjourn the hearing until the end of the day, in order to allow Assange and Ms Peirce a chance to sign off papers and go over their case together at court, rather than have Assange sent back to prison.

Assange spoke only to confirm his name, his date of birth, and to briefly state he did not understand an element of proceedings.

Wearing a black jacket, grey jumper, glasses, and with some stubble and his grey hair swept back, he saluted his supporters in the public gallery as he was brought into court.

Later, he slowly raised his right fist to the sky as he was led to the holding cells.

About 15 protesters maintained a vigil outside court on Monday, chanting Assange’s name and calling for him to be freed.

Such was the clamour for a seat in court that supporters queued for 30 minutes to get into the building, then filed in a line outside the first floor court number one, long before the case opened.

MIA was among more than 40 people who were allowed inside the packed public gallery, who were required to show security they had switched their phones off before entering.

Protesters outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Protesters outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Assange briefly re-appeared in courtroom one later on Monday afternoon, after spending an hour discussing his case with his lawyer.

Supporters in the public gallery stood and raised their fists as Assange returned to the courtroom, which he acknowledged with another salute.

Before proceedings were adjourned for the day, a case management hearing date was confirmed for January 23 at the same court, with Assange due to appear via videolink.

Australian Assange was jailed for 50 weeks in May last year for breaching his bail conditions, after going into hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden over sex offence allegations, which he has always denied.

Swedish authorities later dropped the rape investigation.

He had been in custody since he was dramatically removed from the embassy building in April.

Assange’s full extradition hearing is scheduled for February 24 at Woolwich Crown Court.

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